Published Online: January 29, 2013

Reclaiming Your Teacher Mojo

The moderator asked a real softball of a question of the teachers on our panel: "What can administrators do to better support teachers?" Easy, right? I should have whaled that one out of the park. But I didn't. It was a swing and a miss as I stumbled over my words. My tired brain fizzled out, right there on stage, in front of dozens of parents and colleagues.

I needed to make some changes.

I wasn't sure how or what, but I knew I'd think of it while sweating it out on the trails. I committed to a series of hikes over break and on weekends, visiting a different Florida state park each time. And 32 miles later, having trekked through cypress swamps and scrub, I had come up with some strategies to reclaim my teacher mojo. Here they are:

Schedule stop times. Identify your work curfew: a set time when you have to put the MacBook down and take a break. Call it quits. Break up with the iPad. Schedule a date with someone else … even if it's just yourself. (Can you tell I'm recently divorced?)

Set goals for yourself that don't involve work. Teachers tend to be goal-minded individuals. A novel concept for me: working toward a purpose that doesn't relate to work. My goal? Reading for 15 minutes each evening so I can fall back in love with books. (I guess you could argue that's teaching-related … am I cheating?)

Be comfortable with saying "no." This is difficult. Here's why. Those of us who are the busiest are that way for a reason. We don't want to let people down or miss an opportunity. We think everything is doable. But at what cost?

Learn to weed. At work, try to eliminate tasks that are not priorities. Think about what is important to you. I've narrowed this down to a list of a few go-to questions: Will students benefit? Does this fit with my priorities as an educator? Will I enjoy it?

Pay attention to pace. Even though teachers are capable of great deeds, we can't fly at 120 mph every waking moment. We must slow down.

Embrace those around you. Don't be an island. Bridge out. Have conversations. Be present. Do it! It's good for the soul. Happy soul = happy teacher. Happy teacher = happy students.

Get creative with work space and place. Mix it up. Find ways to make work feel less like work. Grade papers outside on the front porch. Read professional articles at the beach. Or write an article while hiking!

Take a rest. Force yourself. Don't think you have time? Here's a little trick from the pre-K classroom: Set a timer for five minutes and just sit. Be still.

Rethink your to-do list. I nabbed this jewel from an amazing teacher leader and life balancer. His secret? Set two or three tangible goals a day. Don't overwhelm yourself with a monster to-do list. That's not productive! Pick a small handful of daily goals. Thank you, Michael Flynn.

Hit the ground running with your list. Another trick is starting your to-do list with something easy that you can cross off right away. I call it a running start. Momentum.

Know that sometimes the journey can be messy. This is a literal lesson I learned in one Florida state park: Your life isn't over just because you stepped in a little horse poop. Finding balance can be a tricky path, but don't give up hope just because you have a little poo on the bottom of your shoe. Keep on trudging!

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